Numbers, numbers - what do they really mean?

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$812 billion: The price tag of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or President Obama’s 2009 so-called “stimulus” that was going to bring the U.S. out of recession. The administration’s Council of Economic Advisors noted last week that the stimulus has added or saved 2.4 million jobs, at a cost to date to taxpayers of $666 billion. Even with this home-field refereeing, that’s $278,000 per job.

1,471: The number of waivers granted by the Obama Administration allowing organizations to opt out of parts of the new health care law until 2014. A McKinsey & Company survey estimates that 30 percent of employers will take that a step further, opting out of the law entirely in 2014: they’ll pay a fine rather than offer healthcare to their employees.

30 million: The number of barrels of oil released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve last month by the President, who said at the time this would lower gas prices, then at a nationwide average of $3.61 a gallon. Americans use 19.9 million barrels a day; the SPR release provided the United States with 36 hours of fuel, and the average nationwide gas price today is $3.67 a gallon. 

24 percent: The unemployment rate for American teenagers. This means that one out of four youths is missing out on the basic fundamentals of building a productive life: getting up in the morning, putting on clean clothes, being courteous to customers, working within a team, handling responsibility, and gaining the confidence that comes from earning a paycheck. As Jim Tankersley writes in The Atlantic, “The U.S. job market is struggling mightily to bring its next generation of workers into the fold.”

9.2: The percentage of working-age Americans who are seeking a job, but remain unemployed.

44.5 million: The number of Americans receiving food assistance from the federal government. This is commonly known as the “food stamp program.” But participants today are given an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which like a debit card, they can use at a supermarket to buy food until they hit their monthly limit of $134. One out of seven Americans now relies on the EBT card -- including 22 million children.

$3.68 trillion: The estimated budget for the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2012. Approximately two-thirds of the budget, or $2.44 trillion, is mandatory spending, including Social Security and Medicare; $1.24 trillion is discretionary outlays, $242 billion is interest on the debt. It’s difficult to see how any long-term spending cuts can avoid that portion of the budget accounting for two-thirds of the federal budget.

These numbers reveal a grim picture for the American economy, related to Washington’s inability to confront spending, budget, and entitlement reform. This last number is emblematic of the situation:     

0: The number of meetings the Senate Budget Committee has held to mark-up a Federal budget. This means the federal government simply continues to fund programs, with no investigation of whether the programs are useful, if they should be continued, expanded, or eliminated. This auto-pilot approach is a major reason we’re in the midst of this debt ceiling crisis. Because, when there is no budget, there is no direction – and that leads to all the numbers above.